This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Northeast Regional Conference
by NYC SESPA & Stonybrook SftP
In the past year there has been an increasing awareness of the need for SESPA/SftP to better define its politics and to develop organizationally in broadening the base of people who accept responsibilities and make decisions. A Northeast regional conference to discuss program, tactics and organization was conceived as a step in the direction of that definition and development, and will hopefully lead to a national conference in the near future.
Approximately 85 people attended the conference held October 26–28 in Voluntown, Connecticut at a farm run by the Community for Nonviolent Action. Many people came from the Boston area with sizeable groups from New York City and Stonybrook. There were representatives from as far away as Minneapolis, Chicago and Cincinnati with others from Dartmouth, Oswego and Rutgers. Planning for the conference was done by a group from New York and Boston, after a lot of initial footwork by Jim Landen of Schenectady. Position papers were solicited and received from various chapters, individuals and local area groups. Copies of the papers were redistiibuted to attendees prior to the conference in preparation for the conference.
People started arriving on Friday evening, which was set aside as a time for people to meet and get to know each other. At the initial plenary session on Saturday morning, the position papers were discussed. Following the plenary session and after lunch, workshops were held that dealt with the magazine, chapter problems, industrial organizing, university organizing, professional society meeting activities, political education in SESPA and the relation of SESPA to other struggles. An evening plenary session heard reports and proposals from the workshops. Following the plenary session, at a point when people’s heads would no longer function, a party was held.
Sunday morning workshops were organized around three topics: guidelines for SESPA/SftP Chapter activities, regional coordination, and the magazine, with the intent of developing concrete proposals. These were presented and discussed at the plenary session which followed. The proposals on SftP magazine and on a Northeast regional Coordinating Committee were approved as were some of the proposed guidelines for chapter activities [see boxes on the following pages] Other guidelines specifying the constituency to which SESPA/SftP should direct its efforts and the form of the organization’s political work were discussed, but await future regional meetings to be worked out more fully and approved.
RESOLUTION ON REGIONAL COORDINATING COMMITTEE
1. That a Northeast regional coordinating committee be established.
2. That the committee initially consist of one representative each from New York City, Boston, Stony Brook and Washington, D.C. groups.
3. That this committee meet at least once every eight weeks with the first meeting to take place the weekend of November 17·18 in New York City and future meetings to rotate among the cities involved.
4. That the committee be charged with the initial function of generating a proposal for deciding on what criteria there should be for individual and group membership and that this proposal be submitted to the present Northeast Regional Group members for approval.
5. That initially the Committee should have primarily a coordinating function and that future policy-making functions await the establishment of a decision-making mechanism which would have to be approved by the entire Northeast Regional membership as then defined.
6. That the Committee be charged with the following ongoing functions:
(a) Communication and coordination between chapters—this implies the requirement that the Committee be kept informed of all local activities.
NEW YORK CITY SESPA/SftP
We of NYC SESPA/SftP would like to share some of our reactions to the Northeast Regional Conference, in the hopes of keeping up the dialogue and interaction that started there. First, we came away with really good feelings about the people we met and the friendly atmosphere of the entire conference. The 80+ turnout Friday night and the warm, if somewhat intense, accommodations provided by the CNVA were the first pleasant surprises.
In working with other people to set up the conference, we had hoped that it would contribute to the development of a national political perspective, strategy, and structure for SESPA. In general, we think that we got something in the first category (in the “Guidelines for Activities”), nothing in the way of strategy, and all that could be hoped for at this time (in the form of the Regional Committee) in the last category.
We thought that the position papers presented by the various chapters and individuals were of a high enough quality to serve as the basis of very productive discussions. Although each position paper was somewhat limited, in that all grew out of the experiences of single chapters and to some degree advocated more of that experience as the best road for SESPA as a whole, the advocacy of the various positions has helped us considerably in understanding what is going on in the rest of SESPA. Also, most of the papers gave careful attention to one of our most serious problems—a reasonably undisciplined internal work style. We are somewhat chagrined that our position paper, which we thought was perhaps too grandiose when we were writing it out, actually turned out to present fairly minimal concrete proposals.
Unfortunately, the issues raised in the position papers got badly mangled in the first plenary, Saturday morning. With a few exceptions (notably the Stony Brook chapter), the opening presentations (ours included) failed to come to grips with the issues raised in the papers of other groups. In the discussion that followed, no one managed to come up with even a clear statement of the questions involved, such as the conflicts and agreements between industrial organizing, support activities for industrial workers or third world struggles, and cultural and ideological struggles. The meeting degenerated into a series of reasonable points, none of which bore any relation to the issues raised by the previous speaker. In retrospect, this is not too surprising; the disparate activities of our various chapters meant that each group had very little practice giving substance to its arguments in any activities other than its own. That’s why we called a conference.
The mc21 is exempted from any aspect of the above criticism. They came to the conference with a carefully thought-out paper presenting a problem of such national importance that their intense pursuit of it was fully justified. [See SftP, Vol. V, no. 5, Sept., 1973]
The workshops ranged from good to bland. Getting together in smaller groups certainly helped communication—we discovered that the Industrial Group was nowhere near the “into the factories” types a too-hasty reading of their position paper had led us to believe. The Magazine workshop was productive, due to both prior preparation and to the urgency of the problem. In the Chapter Problems workshop, jumping off from Mike Teel’s “Work Style” paper, we found that our senses of what was wrong in SESPA chapters were nearly identical, and the sexism, racism, and elitism guidelines flowed from this sense quite naturally. In the other workshops (University organizing, Political Education, and Relations to Other Struggles) there were some valuable discussions, but there was also some ego tripping, and differences were not overcome to a degree sufficient to bring clarity to SESPA’s future in these areas.
In the Saturday evening plenary, the discussion got somewhat bogged down after the workshop reports, but it seemed to be more a case of exhaustion than anything else. The party was a gas.
The Sunday morning workshops on the Magazine, Regional Structure and Guidelines for SESPA activities actually accomplished what they set out to do and presented concrete proposals to the 11:00 am plenary. The near unanimity of that plenary in adopting the proposals “in principle” may have been due in part to the sense of urgency (it was time to go), but we think that they also represented a real consensus of Northeast Regional SESPA on the minimal organizational requirements for the next stage of our struggle, based on the practical political experiences that we did have in common.
We were disappointed that the conference did not manage to come to grips with questions concerning a national strategy, such as a critique and comparison of the People’s R&D proposal and the Industrial Group’s class analysis position. This weakness is probably a reflection of the ultimate weakness of SESPA: we do not have sufficient ties to our constituency to have developed links between a long-term strategy and our actual practice. However, if we can do one half of the things we said we would do at the conference, we are sure that SESPA will grow so strongly that we will be able to return to these questions at the next conference (and the one after that) with the experience that will enable us to do them justice. As Mick Jagger said at the Saturday night party: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”
RESOLUTION ON SCIENCE FOR THE PEOPLE MAGAZINE
The magazine is a crucial activity and must be put to use (aggressively pushed, cited, distributed, widely disseminated, etc., as an integral part of our work). It will be so used if members think it is relevant, good material, good enough for the purposes of their political work. It will be good enoughl, if the people who will be using it generate, one way or another, the materials that would make it that good.
1. That the chapters take responsibility for distributing the magazine through the following mechanisms:
full subscription of members
2. That the chapters take responsibility for producing material for the magazine at least once each year — this contribution to range from a single article to an entire packet which would comprise the majority of an issue. (This should be a collective effort sent as readable copy.)
3. To facilitate these points:
Each chapter will designate a liaison person to the Magazine Coordinating Committee (mc2) who will be responsible for maintaining regular communication. (Person to be chosen before end of conference)
Each chapter will meet to formulate a concrete plan for distributing the magazine and contributing material and send this to the mc2
4. That the Northeast regional committee structure convey to other chapters this agreement and urge them to do the same.
GUIDELINES FOR SESPA/SftP CHAPTER ACTIVITIES
1. The Northeast regional conference endorses the formation of regional organizations and movement in the direction of forming a national organizational structure.
2. SESPA/SftP defines its objectives as becoming an anti-imperialist socialist organization based on a class analysis of all workers but especially scientific workers.
3. Position papers of this conference should be discussed by chapters with an eye toward developing a national program; chapters should experiment with programs leading to a national program.
4. Each chapter should analyze its internal membership. For the next conference, there should be papers containing a discussion of how chapters are combatting sexism, racism and elitism. Each chapter should write a paper on this matter for discussion and circulation. The conference asks that the magazine publish two such reports per issue until they are all published.
5. Guidelines should be a basis for chapter activities. However, they are not meant to be a restraint on or to restrict chapter activity, but should insure that political discussion informed by the guidelines precedes activity. The eventual aim is to develop discipline and accountability of chapters.
The following is an attempt to convey the essential points of agreement reached by the Stonybrook SftP chapter during the discussion of the first Northeast Regional SESPA/SftP Conference. Despite the number of critical points we wish to raise, we do believe that the conference was a worthwhile endeavor, both in terms of the positive results (guidelines, regional structure, and plans to revitalize the magazine) and in terms of what we learned from the first experience that should result in more successful future meetings.
Advance planning for the conference was weak in several respects.
- Considering the duration of the conference, its goals were too diffuse to result in anything concrete.
- There should have been an attempt to involve more groups in the planning.
- There was not enough attention given to childcare arrangements, resulting in overburdening for parents and volunteers.
- StructurePoor structure again tended to diminish the hopes of arriving at concrete conclusions.
- The first evening was marked by general confusion resulting from the unclear procedure. This got things off to a bad start.
- The actual structure for the crucial first session was not worked out until the last minute, leaving most participants badly prepared.
- This lack of planning could have been compensated for by an effectively handled chair. This would insure a more focussed session. Although practice in chairing meetings is generally a good means of building leadership, these yearly conferences require more experienced chair people.
- The final sessions, on Sunday morning, were considerably better organized, primarily resulting from a correct analysis of Saturday’s organizational deficiencies.
- Discipline and Attitude
- Stemming from vague goals and loose structure, the conference was characterized by a somewhat lax and unserious attitude on the part of its delegates. Meetings began late, people spoke off topics, and serious matters were treated with levity. It is clear that there is some disparity between the urgency stressed in the position papers and that actually felt. Indeed, in our material living conditions, there is little to warrant such urgency. Strong discipline and structure are necessary to compensate for lack of urgency that would exist if we were a working class group.
- There was a lack of serious attention given to points raised by women. In general, there is evidence of this type of dual treatment. Points would be ignored, very often until subsequently reintroduced by men. An example of this occurred in the Sunday workshop on the coordinating committee. The question of the size of the Boston representation was initially posed by a woman and received no response. A few minutes later, when a man brought up the same point, it generated a ten-minute discussion.
- The attempt by the Stonybrook delegates to act as a disciplined group was generally regarded with suspicion and uneasiness. We believe that this results from the difficulty in combatting the all-pervasive socialization toward individualism in our society. This must be struggled with if SftP is to become a truly revolutionary organization.
- We wish to commend the seriousness and good preparation on the part of the magazine and industrial groups. (We particularly appreciated the constructive role played by the magazine coordinator in attempting to analyze and correct the problems that were apparent during Saturday’s sessions).
- The conference was characterized by a great deal of rhetoric. In itself this is not necessarily bad. In this case, however, because of the varying degrees of political knowledge and backgrounds of the participants, there was a lack of common understanding. Rhetoric was used to cloud issues and compensate for a lack of clearcut analysis.
- There is a tendency to use rhetoric in an elitist manner, putting off those not in command of these terms. Women are not educated (generally speaking) in the type of intellectual game playing men indulge in. As a result, women are often suspicious of intellectual activities. This rejection was characteristic of many members of the conference. Since many of these terms, when clearly defined, are useful, rather than objecting to their use, definitions and explanations should be demanded.
- We recognize the importance of organizing technical workers. However, considering the fact that 90% of SftP is University-based, this desire has little material basis. As stated in the Stonybrook position paper, the struggles at the Universities, around secondary contradictions can be effective in raising consciousness about the primary contradictions between workers and capitalists. Our high degree of University affiliation should have merited more discussion on University issues. In the one session on University organizing, the discussion was limited to problems of radical faculty members. No attention was given to questions of educating and organizing undergraduates.
- The important role of criticism in clarifying and unifying the sessions was neglected. Even in the initial session, those who spoke generally chose to summarize their own group’s position rather than to critically analyze and contrast other positions with their own.
- ConclusionThe conference was characterized by a great deal of sincerity and a willingness to learn from our mistakes. We have learned a great deal in terms of organization and planning. With this in mind, we look forward to a period of construction and revitalization.
ACTIONS FOR UPCOMING MEETINGS!
SCIENCE TEACHING FOR THE PEOPLE
Are you interested in changing the way science is taught in our schools?
Do you feel that current science curricula help to perpetuate the sexist, racist, and other oppressive values in our society?
Join us for actions at the annual convention of the National Science Teachers’ Association (NSTA), the major science teachers’ organization in the country.
Chicago, March 15–19, 1974
Scientists, science teachers, everyone—come and help out. We need people to raise issues at various workshops, distribute literature, hold our own workshops, and rap with teachers in general.
The Boston SESPA Science Teaching Group, which includes scientists and science teachers, will have a packet of alternative teaching materials available there on a variety of science and society issues. We need suggestions for films, literature and other approaches to science education.
For further information, write to either:
Science Teaching Group
AAAS ANNUAL MEETING
San Francisco, Feb. 24–March 1, 1973
Berkeley and Palo Alto groups will coordinate plans for SESPA/SftP activities. We have just begun to discuss ideas and we welcome all your suggestions. If you are planning to attend, please let us know of any special issues that you are interested in working around. (The official preliminary program is outlined in the October 26 issue of Science.)
CALL TO IEEE ACTION
We are planning an action at the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Annual Convention to be held in New York City, March 26–29, 1974, at the Coliseum (59th Street, Columbus Circle). Anyone interested in helping is asked to contact us at the address below:
Committee for Social Responsibility in Engineering